The Lutheran-Moravian Dialogue developed its agenda and character in light of the theological, historical and sociological realities of the two churches. While we have been close to each other geographically, ethnically and theologically, our churches in North America proceeded on separate denominational tracks. Our European origins indicate that we have been and still are in mutually enriching relationships. Jan Hus and the Bohemian Brethren who organized themselves as the Unitas Fratrum prepared the ground for the German Reformation led by Martin Luther. The latter and his colleagues encouraged and recognized the Brethren as partners in the renewal of the gospel. Persecuted and driven from their Bohemian and Moravian homelands in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, some of the Unitas Fratrum were given refuge at Herrnhut, the estate of the Lutheran pietist noble, Nicholas Ludwig, Count von Zinzendorf. While at Herrnhut and ministered to by local Lutheran pastors as well as encouraged by Zinzendorf, the Unity was renewed and re-invigorated. Zinzendorf's theological credentials were recognized on several occasions by Lutheran officials, and he was ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament.
Our two churches developed separate ecclesial organizations and identities in North America. The chief reasons for that separate development had much to do with the patterns of immigration from Germany and the religious pluralism which came to characterize English-speaking North America. Although Moravians were indefatigable missionaries to Native Americans in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, they did not attempt, on a consistent basis, to establish Moravian churches on the frontier. The Unity resisted the denominational ecclesial pattern and organizational identity which emerged in the United States. Instead, they often chose to labor cooperatively with Lutheran, Reformed and Episcopal clergy and laity to advance the mission of the whole Church. The Unitas Fratrum, then and now, may provide a valuable precedent for ecumenical experience and attitude. In Asia, Africa and Europe, Moravians and Lutherans have long enjoyed what is now termed "full communion," including eucharistic hospitality and the full interchangeability of members and clergy.
Our churches have never issued mutual or unilateral condemnations one of the other. As will be shown in the Report, we both use the Scriptures as the source of our faith and life, confess the historic creeds and consider the Unaltered Augsburg Confession and Small Catechism to be true expressions of the Christian faith. Justification by faith through grace holds the same vital place among Lutherans and Moravians, and we acknowledge the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The differences between us have more to do with how we manifest religious devotion (piety), engage in theological reflection, and express ourselves organizationally. These are not unsubstantial differences, but they are well within the circle of full communion. One substantive incident, remembered chiefly by Lutherans, has given Moravian-Lutheran relationships in the United States a negative cast: the 1742 meeting and argument in Philadelphia between Henry Melchior Muhlenberg and Nicholas von Zinzendorf. That encounter and a few subsequent quarrels among our pastors reflect tensions within Lutheran pietism and parish rivalries rather than critical doctrinal or confessional differences which are church-dividing. Indeed, neither the Ancient nor the Renewed Moravian Church experienced anything like the controversies which engaged Lutherans in the latter half of the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. In place of a formal emphasis on dogma, Moravians focus on the priority of personal commitment to Jesus as Savior and the relationships among members of the community of believers. Throughout the Dialogue, the participants learned to listen to each other, recognizing that our theological methods have been shaped by our historical experiences. That listening and recognizing shaped the subjects with which we dealt and the ways in which we carried on our discussions.
The Lutheran participants were led to examine their pietist traditions, the influences of their immigrant heritages on their current outlooks, and their need to articulate more clearly their understandings of personal faith, the roles of the Holy Spirit, and the unity of the Church. Moravians, likewise, were moved to express themselves with greater clarity on doctrinal concerns, biblical hermeneutics, their own historical traditions, and church order. Together we searched for the meanings and purposes of ecumenicity, "full communion," and following our Shepherd into God's future.
The Lutheran-Moravian Dialogue began with conversations led by Dr. Arthur Freeman and Dr. Daniel Martensen. Dr. Freeman is a bishop of the Moravian Church and was professor of New Testament and Christian Spirituality at the Moravian Theological Seminary. Dr. Martensen was then the associate director of the Office for Ecumenical Affairs of the ELCA. The formulation of a preliminary set of goals, subsequently endorsed by the respective church bodies and the dialoguers, resulted from the initial conversations. The goals were:
The term "full communion" has a technical meaning in the ecumenical discussions in which the ELCA engages with other churches.1 The characteristics denoted in that term are:
Movement toward full communion, therefore, is broad in scope, penetrating in depth, and far-reaching in its implications. It can involve a gradual process with interim stages of engagement, especially if the churches are significantly different from each other in polity and practice, and if the churches' pasts have been marked by misunderstanding and hostility.
The first formal meeting of the Dialogue was held at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania from December 11-13, 1992. Severe storms prevented Drs. Martensen, Wayne Burkette and C. Daniel Crews from attending personally. The latter two participated through multi-party telephone conversations. Dr. Walter Wagner presented a paper titled "Factors Which Have Shaped Lutheran Theologies And Views Of The Christian Life." Dr. Crews responded to the paper. The cognate paper, "What Has Shaped Moravian Theology And The Moravian View Of The Christian Life?" was jointly authored by Drs. Crews and Freeman and Prof. Otto Dreydoppel, Jr. Dr. Thelma Megill-Cobbler responded from the Lutheran side. Pastor Samuel Zeiser's paper, "A History Of Lutheran-Moravian Interaction In America: A Lutheran Perspective," elicited responses from Dr. Freeman.
The second meeting, June 13-15, 1993, took place at the Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Dr. Wagner presented and Dr. Freeman responded to a paper, "How Our History Has Shaped Our Concept Of Our Ministry: A Lutheran Perspective." Dr. Crews presented and Dr. Megill-Cobbler responded to "How Our History Has Influenced Our Ministry: A Moravian Account." Pr. Zeiser continued the American historical account with "The Henry Melchior Muhlenberg Who Met Count Nicholas Ludwig Von Zinzendorf in 1742." Prof. Dreydoppel contributed "The Incident At Philadelphia: A Moravian Perspective On The Muhlenberg-Zinzendorf Encounter."
The third meeting, December 3-4, 1993, was held at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, Allentown, Pennsylvania. The general topic continued the subject of ministry with a focus on church order. Dr. Freeman shared his paper, "The Moravian Church: Its Faith And Order," and Dr. Megill-Cobbler presented "Recent Readings of The Lutheran Confessions And The Doctrine Of Ministry."
The fourth meeting returned to the Moravian Theological Seminary, June 24-25, 1994. Dr. David Yeago joined the Dialogue at the fourth meeting and Dr. Robert Helm replaced Dr. Wayne Burkette. Dr. Yeago offered a paper titled "The Holy Spirit, Grace And Growth In Lutheran Theology," Dr. Freeman contributed "The Nature Of The Spirit As The On-Going Grace Of God" and Dr. Crews presented "Moravian Views Of The Holy Spirit." Prof. Dreydoppel and Dr. Wagner put forward a preliminary outline for the Report and were instructed to prepare a more detailed draft for consideration.
The dialoguers were active between the fourth and fifth meetings. Dr. Yeago prepared a paper on the sacraments which he shared with Dr. Crews for response. The paper ("The Sacraments In Lutheran Doctrine: Theses, Documentation and Notes") and Dr. Crews' response were then circulated to the other members for consideration.
The fifth meeting, which had originally been scheduled for June 1995, was moved to March 22-23, 1996. Sarah Henrich from Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary joined the Dialogue at this meeting. The meeting began with a discussion of Yeago's paper and Crews' response. Most of the meeting time was then given to review of the Consensus statement which had been prepared by Walter Wagner, Arthur Freeman, and Otto Dreydoppel. Substantive and stylistic revisions were largely completed on March 23. The few items requiring clarification and editing, the Dialoguers agreed, were to be handled through correspondence prior to the circulation of proposed final draft texts to the members. The vote to accept the revised Consensus was unanimous and without reservation. A further vote recommended to our respective bodies that Drs. Freeman and Wagner be considered for inclusion on any subsequent Coordinating Committee. The items designated for clarification, editorial and related matters, and some ancillary historical were included in the draft texts circulated to the Dialoguers during May-July, 1996. The members concurred, explicitly and implicitly with the final text. The recommendations and the report were then forwarded to our churches.
After the meeting the Consensus paper, as revised, was circulated to the members of the Bilateral teams and others. The suggestions received were then included in the editing and it was returned to the members for their final approval. Final approval of the document was attained on August 8, 1996, date designated to receive final changes.
1 Ecumenism Statement, ELCA.
2 The ELCA's suggested stages toward full communion in circumstances which indicate that a gradual process is appropriate are: